Arsène Lupin/Chapter VIII

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CHAPTER VIII


THE DUKE ARRIVES


THE morning was gloomy, and the police-station with its bare, white-washed walls—their white expanse was only broken by notice-boards to which were pinned portraits of criminals with details of their appearance, their crime, and the reward offered for their apprehension—with its shabby furniture, and its dingy fireplace, presented a dismal and sordid appearance entirely in keeping with the September grey. The inspector sat at his desk, yawning after a night which had passed without an arrest. He was waiting to be relieved. The policeman at the door and the two policemen sitting on a bench by the wall yawned in sympathy.

The silence of the street was broken by the rattle of an uncommonly noisy motor-car. It stopped before the door of the police-station, and the eyes of the inspector and his men turned, idly expectant, to the door of the office.

It opened, and a young man in motor-coat and cap stood on the threshold.

He looked round the office with alert eyes, which took in everything, and said, in a brisk, incisive voice: "I am the Duke of Charmerace. I am here on behalf of M. Gournay-Martin. Last evening he received a letter from Arsène Lupin saying he was going to break into his Paris house this very morning."

At the name of Arsène Lupin the inspector sprang from his chair, the policemen from their bench. On the instant they were wide awake, attentive, full of zeal.

"The letter, your Grace!" said the inspector briskly.

The Duke pulled off his glove, drew the letter from the breast- pocket of his under-coat, and handed it to the inspector.

The inspector glanced through it, and said. "Yes, I know the handwriting well." Then he read it carefully, and added, "Yes, yes: it's his usual letter."

"There's no time to be lost," said the Duke quickly. "I ought to have been here hours ago-hours. I had a break-down. I'm afraid I'm too late as it is."

"Come along, your Grace—come along, you," said the inspector briskly.

The four of them hurried out of the office and down the steps of the police-station. In the roadway stood a long grey racing-car, caked with muds—grey mud, brown mud, red mud—from end to end. It looked as if it had brought samples of the soil of France from many districts.

"Come along; I'll take you in the car. Your men can trot along beside us," said the Duke to the inspector.

He slipped into the car, the inspector jumped in and took the seat beside him, and they started. They went slowly, to allow the two policemen to keep up with them. Indeed, the car could not have made any great pace, for the tyre of the off hind-wheel was punctured and deflated.

In three minutes they came to the Gournay-Martin house, a wide-fronted mass of undistinguished masonry, in an undistinguished row of exactly the same pattern. There were no signs that any one was living in it. Blinds were drawn, shutters were up over all the windows, upper and lower. No smoke came from any of its chimneys, though indeed it was full early for that.

Pulling a bunch of keys from his pocket, the Duke ran up the steps. The inspector followed him. The Duke looked at the bunch, picked out the latch-key, and fitted it into the lock. It did not open it. He drew it out and tried another key and another. The door remained locked.

"Let me, your Grace," said the inspector. "I'm more used to it. I shall be quicker."

The Duke handed the keys to him, and, one after another, the inspector fitted them into the lock. It was useless. None of them opened the door.

"They've given me the wrong keys," said the Duke, with some vexation. "Or no—stay—I see what's happened. The keys have been changed."

"Changed?" said the inspector. "When? Where?"

"Last night at Charmerace," said the Duke. "M. Gournay-Martin declared that he saw a burglar slip out of one of the windows of the hall of the chÂteau, and we found the lock of the bureau in which the keys were kept broken."

The inspector seized the knocker, and hammered on the door.

"Try that door there," he cried to his men, pointing to a side-door on the right, the tradesmen's entrance, giving access to the back of the house. It was locked. There came no sound of movement in the house in answer to the inspector's knocking.

"Where's the concierge?" he said.

The Duke shrugged his shoulders. "There's a housekeeper, too—a woman named Victoire," he said. "Let's hope we don't find them with their throats cut."

"That isn't Lupin's way," said the inspector. "They won't have come to much harm."

"It's not very likely that they'll be in a position to open doors," said the Duke drily.

"Hadn't we better have it broken open and be done with it?"

The inspector hesitated.

"People don't like their doors broken open," he said. "And M. Gournay-Martin——"

"Oh, I'll take the responsibility of that," said the Duke.

"Oh, if you say so, your Grace," said the inspector, with a brisk relief. "Henri, go to Ragoneau, the locksmith in the Rue Theobald. Bring him here as quickly as ever you can get him."

"Tell him it's a couple of louis if he's here inside of ten minutes," said the Duke.

The policeman hurried off. The inspector bent down and searched the steps carefully. He searched the roadway. The Duke lighted a cigarette and watched him. The house of the millionaire stood next but one to the corner of a street which ran at right angles to the one in which it stood, and the corner house was empty. The inspector searched the road, then he went round the corner. The other policeman went along the road, searching in the opposite direction. The Duke leant against the door and smoked on patiently. He showed none of the weariness of a man who has spent the night in a long and anxious drive in a rickety motor-car. His eyes were bright and clear; he looked as fresh as if he had come from his bed after a long night's rest. If he had not found the South Pole, he had at any rate brought back fine powers of endurance from his expedition in search of it.

The inspector came back, wearing a disappointed air.

"Have you found anything?" said the Duke.

"Nothing," said the inspector.

He came up the steps and hammered again on the door. No one answered his knock. There was a clatter of footsteps, and Henri and the locksmith, a burly, bearded man, his bag of tools slung over his shoulder, came hurrying up. He was not long getting to work, but it was net an easy job. The lock was strong. At the end of five minutes he said that he might spend an hour struggling with the lock itself; should he cut away a piece of the door round it?

"Cut away," said the Duke.

The locksmith changed his tools, and in less than three minutes he had cut away a square piece from the door, a square in which the lock was fixed, and taken it bodily away.

The door opened. The inspector drew his revolver, and entered the house. The Duke followed him. The policemen drew their revolvers, and followed the Duke. The big hall was but dimly lighted. One of the policemen quickly threw back the shutters of the windows and let in the light. The hall was empty, the furniture in perfect order; there were no signs of burglary there.

"The concierge?" said the inspector, and his men hurried through the little door on the right which opened into the concierge's rooms. In half a minute one of them came out and said: "Gagged and bound, and his wife too."

"But the rooms which were to be plundered are upstairs," said the Duke—"the big drawing-rooms on the first floor. Come on; we may be just in time. The scoundrels may not yet have got away."

He ran quickly up the stairs, followed by the inspector, and hurried along the corridor to the door of the big drawing-room. He threw it open, and stopped dead on the threshold. He had arrived too late.

The room was in disorder. Chairs were overturned, there were empty spaces on the wall where the finest pictures of the millionaire had been hung. The window facing the door was wide open. The shutters were broken; one of them was hanging crookedly from only its bottom hinge. The top of a ladder rose above the window-sill, and beside it, astraddle the sill, was an Empire card-table, half inside the room, half out. On the hearth-rug, before a large tapestry fire-screen, which masked the wide fireplace, built in imitation of the big, wide fireplaces of our ancestors, and rose to the level of the chimney-piece-a magnificent chimney-piece in carved oak-were some chairs tied together ready to be removed.

The Duke and the inspector ran to the window, and looked down into the garden. It was empty. At the further end of it, on the other side of its wall, rose the scaffolding of a house a-building. The burglars had found every convenience to their hand—a strong ladder, an egress through the door in the garden wall, and then through the gap formed by the house in Process of erection, which had rendered them independent of the narrow passage between the Walls of the gardens, which debouched into a side-street on the right.

The Duke turned from the window, glanced at the wall opposite, then, as if something had caught his eye, went quickly to it.

"Look here," he said, and he pointed to the middle of one of the empty spaces in which a picture had hung.

There, written neatly in blue chalk, were the words:


ARSENE LUPIN


"This is a job for Guerchard," said the inspector. "But I had better get an examining magistrate to take the matter in hand first." And he ran to the telephone.

The Duke opened the folding doors which led into the second drawing- room. The shutters of the windows were open, and it was plain that Arsène Lupin had plundered it also of everything that had struck his fancy. In the gaps between the pictures on the walls was again the signature "Arsène Lupin."

The inspector was shouting impatiently into the telephone, bidding a servant wake her master instantly. He did not leave the telephone till he was sure that she had done so, that her master was actually awake, and had been informed of the crime. The Duke sat down in an easy chair and waited for him.

When he had finished telephoning, the inspector began to search the two rooms for traces of the burglars. He found nothing, not even a finger-mark.

When he had gone through the two rooms he said, "The next thing to do is to find the house-keeper. She may be sleeping still—she may not even have heard the noise of the burglars."

"I find all this extremely interesting," said the Duke; and he followed the inspector out of the room.

The inspector called up the two policemen, who had been freeing the concierge and going through the rooms on the ground-floor. They did not then examine any more of the rooms on the first floor to discover if they also had been plundered. They went straight up to the top of the house, the servants' quarters.

The inspector called, "Victoire! Victoire!" two or three times; but there was no answer.

They opened the door of room after room and looked in, the inspector taking the rooms on the right, the policemen the rooms on the left.

"Here we are," said one of the policemen." This room's been recently occupied." They looked in, and saw that the bed was unmade. Plainly Victoire had slept in it.

"Where can she be?" said the Duke.

"Be?" said the inspector. "I expect she's with the burglars—an accomplice."

"I gather that M. Gournay-Martin had the greatest confidence in her," said the Duke.

"He'll have less now," said the inspector drily. "It's generally the confidential ones who let their masters down."

The inspector and his men set about a thorough search of the house. They found the other rooms undisturbed. In half an hour they had established the fact that the burglars had confined their attention to the two drawing-rooms. They found no traces of them; and they did not find Victoire. The concierge could throw no light on her disappearance. He and his wife had been taken by surprise in their sleep and in the dark.

They had been gagged and bound, they declared, without so much as having set eyes on their assailants. The Duke and the inspector came back to the plundered drawing-room.

The inspector looked at his watch and went to the telephone.

"I must let the Prefecture know," he said.

"Be sure you ask them to send Guerchard," said the Duke.

"Guerchard?" said the inspector doubtfully.

"M. Formery, the examining magistrate, does not get on very well with Guerchard."

"What sort of a man is M. Formery? Is he capable?" said the Duke.

"Oh, yes—yes. He's very capable," said the inspector quickly. "But he doesn't have very good luck."

"M. Gournay-Martin particularly asked me to send for Guerchard if I arrived too late, and found the burglary already committed," said the Duke. "It seems that there is war to the knife between Guerchard and this Arsène Lupin. In that case Guerchard will leave no stone unturned to catch the rascal and recover the stolen treasures. M. Gournay-Martin felt that Guerchard was the man for this piece of work very strongly indeed."

"Very good, your Grace," said the inspector. And he rang up the Prefecture of Police.

The Duke heard him report the crime and ask that Guerchard should be sent. The official in charge at the moment seemed to make some demur.

The Duke sprang to his feet, and said in an anxious tone, "Perhaps I'd better speak to him myself,"

He took his place at the telephone and said, "I am the Duke of Charmerace. M. Gournay-Martin begged me to secure the services of M. Guerchard. He laid the greatest stress on my securing them, if on reaching Paris I found that the crime had already been committed."

The official at the other end of the line hesitated. He did not refuse on the instant as he had refused the inspector. It may be that he reflected that M. Gournay-Martin was a millionaire and a man of influence; that the Duke of Charmerace was a Duke; that he, at any rate, had nothing whatever to gain by running counter to their wishes. He said that Chief-Inspector Guerchard was not at the Prefecture, that he was off duty; that he would send down two detectives, who were on duty, at once, and summon Chief-Inspector Guerchard with all speed. The Duke thanked him and rang off.

"That's all right," he said cheerfully, turning to the inspector. "What time will M. Formery be here?"

"Well, I don't expect him for another hour," said the inspector. "He won't come till he's had his breakfast. He always makes a good breakfast before setting out to start an inquiry, lest he shouldn't find time to make one after he's begun it."

"Breakfast—breakfast—that's a great idea," said the Duke. "Now you come to remind me, I'm absolutely famished. I got some supper on my way late last night; but I've had nothing since. I suppose nothing interesting will happen till M. Formery comes; and I may as well get some food. But I don't want to leave the house. I think I'll see what the concierge can do for me."

So saying, he went downstairs and interviewed the concierge. The concierge seemed to be still doubtful whether he was standing on his head or his heels, but he undertook to supply the needs of the Duke. The Duke gave him a louis, and he hurried off to get food from a restaurant.

The Duke went upstairs to the bathroom and refreshed himself with a cold bath. By the time he had bathed and dressed the concierge had a meal ready for him in the dining-room. He ate it with the heartiest appetite. Then he sent out for a barber and was shaved.

He then repaired to the pillaged drawing-room, disposed himself in the most restful attitude on a sofa, and lighted an excellent cigar. In the middle of it the inspector came to him. He was not wearing a very cheerful air; and he told the Duke that he had found no clue to the perpetrators of the crime, though M. Dieusy and M. Bonavent, the detectives from the Prefecture of Police, had joined him in the search.

The Duke was condoling with him on this failure when they heard a knocking at the front door, and then voices on the stairs.

"Ah! Here is M. Formery!" said the inspector cheerfully. "Now we can get on."